Disclaimer: "If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended,
That you did but slumber'd here while these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme is no more yielding then a dream."

-Midsummer's Night Dream

I onward go, I stop,
With hinged knees and
steady hand to dress wounds,
I am firm with each,
the pangs are sharp yet unavoidable,
One turns to me his appealing eyes—poor boy!
I never knew you,
Yet I think I could not refuse this moment
to die for you, if that would save you.

- Walt Whitman

The Wound-Dresser

By: Lady Erised

He remembers; mainly that's what Vaughan Rice does now, he remembers. He remembered what it was like before the cancer, and before Pearse was in this small white gray room, but Jesus, somehow Vaughan can't believe that it was real at all. How could it have been? There's no proof, after all, in this small shadow-man lying in the bed. Whatever it is, it's not Pearse Harman.

Pearse was alive, vital. He laughed and moved, but mostly watched and even then, there was life. Behind those wise eyes Vaughan could see life and had relied on it. Pearse breathed and existed and was steady and Vaughan had clung to him for dear sanity. And Pearse had been willing, more then willing to be that pillar and shelter from the storm. He had been strong enough to be at times the comforter, and at times the villain to prove to Vaughan that he could be both too, when needed.

But the man whose bony hand lay in Vaughan's was not Pearse. This man was weak, and gray, and crying from the pain. He was distant, lucid, and unreal. The doctors called him by a patient number when they referred to him at all and had stopped using words like "healing" or "treatment." Now it was only comfort. Must make him comfortable, they would say, as they stared not at Pearse but pass him, to the bed and pillows and wires that jutted in and out of the body.

Angela had stopped coming early on, when Harman had first begun to fade. She didn't have the strength and for his part, Vaughan couldn't really blame her. Pearse didn't notice. He barely knew half the time that Vaughan was there. It was more the movement that Pearse was aware of, the sound and light; the existence of someone in the room besides him and the Pain, and Vaughan liked to believe that it provided him some meager comfort. It seemed to comfort Pearse.

Or maybe, more truthfully, Vaughan goes and sits there at his bedside because it's comforting to him. In this, he hasn't abandoned Pearse; in this he hasn't betrayed him. Even though he has.

And Vaughan remembers. Staring into the graying waxen face, Vaughan remembers the fight they had; one string in the long line of fights they had from the moment Vaughan found out his leader was dying.

It started out the same way they all had; Vaughan had found out something that Pearse had meant to hide. Pearse had always been a private man, remnants of a priestly lifestyle, but Vaughan had always viewed the mission as more important then this. For his part, Pearse had never challenged him on that part, had never accused Vaughan of prying into matters that were none of his concern. He had simply argued the details, and never the cause, affording Vaughan even in their quarrels a kind of protection.

The medications no longer worked. They always knew that it would happen one day, but Pearse hadn't told them. He continued to fill the small plastic bottles, and collect the little prescriptions on his desk like a small army of toy soldiers. But his body would no longer stomach the medicines that did more harm then good; and that's where Vaughan had found him clutching the toilet, moaning and weeping from the stomach cramps. There was blood on the floor.

He had sensed movement behind him, and spun about to stare up at Rice before tumbling awkwardly to his feet and walked pass Vaughan. He made no attempt to wipe the blood from his mouth, which probably incited Vaughan more.

"Not now, Vaughan" Pearse had moaned as he walked back into his office. Vaughan followed him relentlessly like he always did when he was after something and had stood, staring at the Father's back. "Then when? When were you going to tell us it had spread? When were you going to share with us that you had taken another turn for the worst…that your chances of…"

"My chances of what, exactly?" Pearse shouted, spinning about and staring down Vaughan with more passion he'd seen in a long time. There was a kind of affronted dignity there, feeding whatever little strength Harman left and fueling the anger in his voice. "What, Vaughan and for mercy's sake, do not say recovery. Not again, because I'm tried of it. I'm tired of those little games we're playing…"

Harman rose to his feet then, sliding hands over his shirt before hiding them in his pants pocket. "I'm dying Vaughan. That's simple and it's time we faced it. We had a chance, and we gave it the best shot we had, but now…now there's no more we. What comes next is just me, son." There was a grim sort of smile that collected about his face. "I'm going to die. And it's something I'm going to do alone."

"How…can you say that…you…"

"I do this alone." Pearse repeated. His voice was low, resigned but not bitter. If anything it held a lightness that came with the simplicity of it all. Vaughan saw how tired he was then, and hated Pearse for his weakness then. "Angela, you, and Michael…are going to have to learn to work together from now on. I know it's scary, being alone with Mike and Angie but I know you can handle it."

"Pearse…"

"I'm not afraid of dying." Pearse deadpanned. He leaned against his desk, hands gripping the sides on each side. "Well. Not of the act itself at any rate. I know what happens," Something danced across his face then, sapping the strength. "At least, I know what I'm hoping for…" A weak smile. Somehow it hit Vaughan and made him seethe more.

"And then what?" Vaughan demanded because it was still easier to be angry then be accepting. "Are we supposed to surrender you then? Just give up because you're tired…"

"Yes." Pearse said simply. "There are some fights you can't win, some battles not worth fighting."

"How can you, of all people say that…"

"Morality has a nasty way of putting one's priorities in order."

"Is that what this is?"

"So does viewing immortality for that matter."

And there it was, what lingered on both of their minds laid bare and simple because Pearse had no more stamina to hide. He just smiled now at Vaughan and was honest, and Vaughan hated him for it. He looked up and waited.

"You want to die?" Rice asked at last.

"Of course not." Harman shifted uncomfortably but still smiled. "There's so much I'm not ready…to leave. So much I want to tell you…that will never be said…and it…scares" He looked away for a moment, with the old vision that he had once: as if he saw something in a corner, in an empty space that no one else saw. "But I know what happens next too, when the medicines fail and the cancer's still there. Vaughan…the pain. And if there's something I know, I don't…death doesn't scare me, but…dying. Dying I'm not so sure of."

"What are you trying to say…"

"I can't…" Pearse bowed his head, his shoulders slumped, and for a long time silence hung in the air like a knife. Vaughan ignored the choked sobs, and waited- half hating Pearse and half-fearing the words that would come next. He had no right, Vaughan screamed silently, Pearse had no right to fail him now. He had no right to be weak. No right to need help now…Pearse did not need help…he was suppose to be the help…

"I'm afraid," Pearse said at last. "Not of death. I'm afraid of those moments, in between: when there's so much pain…" His voice broke again. "You have no idea how much, Vaughan…no…idea…you'd do anything, anything to make the pain go away and I can't. I'm not…certain. I can keep it in. I don't know if I'm strong enough…"

"I do."

"And if I fail?" Pearse pressed on. His eyes were shut, and one trembling graying hand crossed over his lips, clearing away the blood at last. He stared at it on his fingers and trembled. "Vaughan, I need to know…if I fail. It's not fair what I ask…I know, and I'm so- I'm…Vaughan, I need to know if I stumble that you won't."

Vaughan slid his eyes closed. He had no right to ask this. No right to need to ask this question. He shouldn't be this weak. There was nothing on earth that Vaughan could have done to deserve this, and damn him for asking it.

"I won't."

"Promise?"

"Promise."

And so Vaughan sits by his bedside, waits and remembers. Sometimes Pearse will wake up long enough to scream in pain and when he does it's a name, and plea. Vaughan sits beside him, hands resting on his holster that's hidden under his coat and waits. Pearse moans and squirms and the doctors try to make him comfortable and sometimes, just beyond the door, Vaughan will see a shadow move and glimpse a woman's face turning to gaze into the room she dare not enter. Pearse will call to her.

And Vaughan sits between them, waiting and remembering.